Bill Marler Interview, Part Two: His Most Difficult Cases and Lobbying Congress
Short Order recently published part one of our interview with Bill Marler, attorney, blogger, and food safety advocate. He discussed food safety concerns and foodborne illness.
We wrap up our interview today with Marler discussing his most difficult cases and lobbying Congress to pass the Food Modernization Act.
Follow the jump for the second part of our interview with Marler.
Short Order: What has been your most difficult case and why?
Bill Marler: Any case involving a death is difficult. Some of the victims I represent in lawsuits stemming from the Jensen Farms cantaloupe Listeria outbreak in 2011 stand out in my mind because I've been hired by the wives and children of World War II veterans who received Purple Hearts for serving their country, but died because of something so simple as eating a cantaloupe.
As the father of three daughters, though, representing the parents of 7-year-old Abby Fenstermaker after her death was probably the most emotional case I've ever been involved in.
Abby went to the hospital to visit her grandfather, who was suffering from an E. coli O157:H7 infection he contracted from ground beef. While there, she became infected with E. coli and less than two weeks later she was gone.
Abby's illness started like any other E. coli infection, with painful abdominal cramping and diarrhea. It progressed quickly; causing acute renal failure and a massive stroke that left her completely brain dead.
Abby's parents held her while she was taken off life support and her heart beat for the last time. No parent should have to go through that--especially because of something preventable like foodborne illness.
Bill Marler, hard at work.
Courtesy of Bill Marler
What has been your proudest achievement as an advocate of food safety?
I travel around the world to share my clients' stories with members of the food industry and public health communities. I do this for free because I think it's so important for people in positions to prevent foodborne illness or who are investigating foodborne illness outbreaks to be aware of how their jobs impact each and every one of us--especially those who become ill during outbreaks.
I lobbied Congress to pass the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and petitioned the USDA to declare Non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) adulterants in meat products. My clients and I worked with other food safety advocates to arrange dozens of meetings with Senators, Congressmen and leaders at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to show them that people sickened by foodborne illness are not just statistics.
President Obama signed FSMA into law nearly a year ago (it's still stuck in the Office of Management and Budget) and FSIS declared non-O157 STECs adulterants in ground beef last spring.
(For more on STECs click here.)
What changes would you like to see in the food industry?
We would need days to discuss this fully. Each and every member of the food industry -- from farm to fork -- must create a culture where food safety and nutrition is paramount. Baring companies from doing the right thing on their own, if I had the power to enact immediate changes, I'd:
- Have comprehensive minimum food safety standards for domestic and foreign production with more frequent inspections based upon risk.
- Implement criminal sanctions for food producers that knowingly produce tainted food.
Follow Bill Marler on Twitter @bmarler.
Follow Ily on Twitter @realily.
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